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Alberta government plans sweeping changes through 2 omnibus bills

The Alberta government on Monday introduced two pieces of omnibus legislation containing sweeping changes that include ending a ban on using replacement workers during labour disputes and controlling where doctors can practice through the allocation of billing numbers. 

Bills 20 and 21 propose to end ban on replacement workers, control where doctors practise

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews at the Federal Building in Edmonton on Thursday, speaking to reporters ahead of delivering his government's first budget. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The Alberta government on Monday introduced two pieces of omnibus legislation containing sweeping changes that include ending a ban on using replacement workers during labour disputes and controlling where in the province doctors can practise. 

Bills 20 and 21 include some changes that were introduced in last Thursday's budget, and others that were revealed for the first time. There are 35 changes laid out in the two bills. 

Finance Minister Travis Toews says they demonstrate the government's desire to tackle Alberta's debt, which is costing $2 billion in interest each year. 

"Budget 2019 and these bills are a swift first response to these concerns," he said.

The government intends, through Bill 21, to roll back legislation passed by the previous NDP government that banned the use of replacement workers for essential government services during public sector strikes when an essential services agreement is in place. 

The NDP law followed a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of public sector workers to go on strike. Toews said the change by the United Conservative government is constitutional. 

"I believe this will stand up [in court]," he said. "Our first priority is to Albertans, that we can ensure that we are delivering essential services at a time of a labour walkout." 

NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips says the government is trying to throw labour relations into chaos. 

"This is a particular type of playbook from particular kind of government that has a certain orientation to it," she said.

Bill 21 proposes to give the health minister the ability to tell physicians where they can practise in Alberta when they are issued the identification numbers they require to bill the government for services; forcing them to practise in under-served areas of the province.

Bill 21 also proposes giving the justice minister the power to amend funding arrangements for policing through regulations, not law, so they can make changes more quickly. 

Smaller municipalities under 5,000 and municipal districts do not pay for policing. The Alberta government has been holding community consultations on a new funding model this fall.

Other changes in Bills 20 and 21 were announced in last week's budget. They include suspending indexation on the province's Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and Income Support benefits, removing the tuition freeze, and ending tax credit programs like the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit. 

Ending indexation of AISH and Income Support is expected to save the government $300 million by 2022-23.

The government estimates it will save about $7 million in AISH payments in 2019-20; $35 million in 2020-21; $66.4 million in 2021-22 and $101.4 million by 2022-23. For income support, the savings are $3 million in 2019-20; $16.4 million in 2020-21; $29.4 million in 2021-22 and $42.2 million in 2022-23.

Indexing increases payments to match increases in inflation. The Alberta government estimates the inflation rate will hover around two per cent over the next few years.

Measures proposed in Bill 20:

  • End the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit, Capital Investment Tax Credit, Community and Economic Tax Credit, Alberta Investor Tax Credit, Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Credit. 
  • End education and tuition tax credits.
  • Repeal the city charters for Edmonton and Calgary and put a new Local Government Fiscal Framework Act in its place.
  • Suspend indexation of tax brackets for income tax system, saving the government at least $600 million by the end of 2022-23 fiscal year.
  • End the Lottery Fund and move the money into general revenue.
  • End the Access to the Future Fund, the Alberta Cancer Prevention Legacy Fund, and Environmental Protection and Enhancement Fund.
  • Roll the Alberta Child Benefit and Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit into the single Alberta Child and Family Benefit.
  • Increase tobacco tax rate. 
  • Amend the funding agreements for LRT in Edmonton and Calgary so provincial cash can come after 2023.

Measures proposed in Bill 21:

  • Temporarily suspend indexation of benefits for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), Income Support and the Seniors Lodge Program. 
  • Provide more detailed quarterly financial reports.
  • Exclude budget officers, systems analysts, auditors and employees who perform similar functions from bargaining units.
  • Reverse the replacement worker ban in the public sector.
  • End tuition freeze for three years.
  • Increase student loan interest by one per cent.
  • End regulated rate option cap for electric.
  • Allow health minister to place conditions on new practitioner identification numbers.
  • Allow changes to the master agreement with the Alberta Medical Association.
  • Allow minister to change through regulation how municipalities pay for policing.
  • Change how the province uses fine money it collects on behalf of municipalities.
  • Allow the government to have greater oversight over collective bargaining with public sector employees, including the length of the agreement, and the use of salary surveys.
  • Subjecting funding for disasters to a supply vote in the legislature. 

 

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